ITALY – Como, scientific summit on embryonic stem cells

(Stem Cells News image)

View of Lake Como from Mount San Primo
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Summit at Lake Como with 100 European stem cell experts.
At the summit, 16 research teams part of the Neurostemcell consortium that have been working for months on finding treatments for Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease met. The network, coordinated by Elena Cattaneo, Director of Unistem, the interdepartmental stem cell research centre of the University of Milan, met on April 1 in Bellagio, on the shores of Lake Como for their first annual meeting.

“The meeting is an opportunity to discuss the results obtained until now and to refine our methods,” explained Cattaneo, who pointed out the objective of the project, which is financed by the EU with 12 million euros: “Compares all stem cells and evaluates them as a potential tool for treatments for Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases.” The researchers, from various European laboratories, continued the specialist, “must work to institute stem cells to develop into neurons that die in individuals with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. The strategy is to take immature stem cells and to push them in a specific direction, rebuilding the codes, or transcription factors of genes and proteins in the laboratory.

The stock of stem cells that we have available today is ample, observed Cattaneo. There are reprogrammed pluripotent stem cells (Ips), adult stem cells, and embryonic stem cells “which particularly fascinate me”. In Cattaneo’s view, for the two neurodegenerative diseases that are the focus of the project, “embryonic stem cells have a strong ability to produce neurons. We are not talking about treatment. These cells are exceptional because they mainly have the ability to receive messages that you send them. With adult stem cells, it does not exactly work in the same way, it seems that they do not have the same abilities to be manipulated.” Embryonic stem cells, concluded a smiling Cattaneo, “are wide awake. It is more satisfying working with them”.


The University of Milan hosted 700 high school students, who paid close attention and were very reactive to the speakers at the event. The students were very interested in scientific research reported in a conference on stem cells by the Unistem group, which was created at the Milan university and has the responsibility of reporting the results of the most recent research on immature stem cells.
The real problem, for scientists like Elena Cattaneo, Unistem’s promoter, is that in Italy, the number of students who decide to choose to study science is too low. In Italy, researchers are always lacking. This initiative seeks to transmit a passion for science and research to young students.

The speakers on stage all morning did a great job in accomplishing this, while in the afternoon, students of the Einstein high school in Milan and Cocito in Alba (province of Cuneo) debated on Bioethics and Experimentation in a videoconference with students at a school in Stockholm.
In the meanwhile, other students visited two laboratories: BioRep, specialized in technology to manage biological material, and the Sapio Group in Caponago, which manufactures gas and drugs.

The students showed interest in talks by researchers like Fulvio Gandolfi (University of Milan), Giulio Cossu (San Raffaele), and Ivan Torrente (General Hospital) on stem cells as a point of departure to find treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease. Their interest turned into enthusiasm when astronomer Giovanni Bignami led them as a reporter in an imaginary soccer match between the Universe and Man, won 4-0 by the Universe, with goals by Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Darwin.

Journalists also spoke at the event, with a speech made by Charles Sabine, an NBC war correspondent, who has tested positive for Huntington’s, which had already killed his father and struck his brother.
“His conclusions made me think,” commented Stefano Caimi, of the Hensemberger Science High School in Monza, “when he said that the fear he felt on many occasions risking his life in wars all over the world was nothing compared to the awareness that he would also suffer from Huntington’s. He concluded that the future for a solution for these terrible diseases is in our hands. This is something that really motivates!”

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